America has had a tense post-Cold War relationship with North Korea, to put it mildly. Every US President from George H.W. Bush to Donald Trump has had difficulty in one form or another with North Korea, usually due to America’s lumbering aggressive posture towards Pyongyang. But throughout the post-Cold War period, one former US President has been what can only be described as a lone voice of reason and balance on the issue. That man is of course, Jimmy Carter who first entered the White House in 1977 before leaving after one term.
Carter’s first visit to North Korea came in 1994, when he met with North Korean founder Kim Il-Sung shortly before the latter’s death. In spite of tensions with the still inexperienced Clinton administration stemming from Pyongyang’s expulsion of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, Carter approached the North Korea leadership with an independent mindset and a respectful attitude.
Carter was reciprocated, as the North Korean leaders showed great deference to the former US leader, while North Korean media hailed the event as a success.
Not only did the good will on both sides help to immediately decrease tensions, but the meeting resulted in an agreement with Pyongyang which resulted in a pause in North Korea’s weapons program and a commitment on the part of the DPRK to remain a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In exchange, North Korea would receive limited aid from the US and a promised thaw in diplomatic relations.
Interestingly, Carter announced the details of the agreement, which went beyond his original mandate, on CNN, before running it past the Clinton administration. Later, the Clinton administration effectively rubber stamped the agreement in order to save face.
While Carter is often remembered as a deeply compromised President, particularly because of the disproportional influence that National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski had on the Carter White House, as an ex-President, Carter has stood apart from all of his successors in working for peaceful solutions to matters ranging from the Korean peninsula and Palestine to Venezuela. As such, Carter is uniquely respected both at the UN and around the world, even during times when the United States is led by men who are uniquely despised beyond the shores of America’s traditional NATO allies.
While the right-wing US talk-radio circuit that helped Trump get into power still has a great deal of fun at Cater’s expense, the fact is that many of Donald Trump’s peace minded and pragmatic campaign promises were more in-sync with Cater’s post-White House attitude to the world than they were with most contemporary members of Carter’s Democratic Party. In 2017, the foreign policy of most Democrats is indistinguishable from that of the Republican neo-cons.
If Trump reached out to Carter and even so much as invited him to sit with the US delegation at the UN General Assembly, it would send a powerful message of bi-partisanship to Trump’s domestic critics as well as showing the world that, America is not disinterested in peace.
Sadly, while Donald Trump campaigned on a platform of a more peace orientated Presidency, it is ending up being one of the most militant in recent memory.
Jimmy Carter could represent the human version of a ‘re-set button’ between a disorganised Trump White House and the rest of the world.
Jimmy Carter is now 92. He will not be around forever. Trump should utilise the wisdom of a man often called the best ex-President in modern US history, if he truly wants to seize back the initiative for peace and moderation from the likes of overzealous neo-cons like Nikki Haley and the team of Generals who seem to be advising Trump on all matters pertaining to war and peace….minus the peace.